Zimbabwe’s elections appeared to have been “free and fair”, head of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission Rita Makarau has said.
This was echoed by former Nigerian president, Olusegun Obasanjo, who leads the 69-member African Union (AU) observer team.
He told reporters shortly after the close of polls “from what I saw and from what has been reported so far from our observers who worked out in the field, the conduct of the elections everywhere they went have been peaceful, orderly, free and fair”.
He said he hoped the reports from all the polling stations would reflect this.
Responding to claims by the MDC-T yesterday that people were turned away from polling stations, Obasanjo said the reasons ranged from people being registered in other wards to them not having the right identification papers, but these had been dealt with.
Makarau said an hour after the closing of the polls that long lines had been reported in some provinces, but those voters who were in line before the 7pm close of voting stations would be served “even if it takes us until midnight”.
Counting of votes is under way in this crucial elections, the first after the violent 2008 polls when an uneasy power-sharing agreement between Zanu-PF’s Robert Mugabe and the MDC-T’s Morgan Tsvangirai was brokered.
Opposition claims of election rigging in favour of Zanu-PF have marred what has been described as a largely peaceful election in Zimbabwe.
A high turnout was reported although final figures were not available at the time of publication.
Five hours before the 7pm close of polling booths last night, MDC-T secretary Tendai Biti, also the country’s finance minister, repeated his party’s claims of recent days that there had been major irregularities in the run-up to the elections and also on elections day.
Despite earlier concerns of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) that the ZEC would not have the logistics in place in time for yesterday’s elections, only a few areas reported a shortage of ballot papers.
Ballot papers ran out in some voting stations, forcing voters to wait as more ballot papers were fetched.
President Robert Mugabe (89), who has been ruling the country since 1980 and is again contesting the presidency, voted around noon yesterday in Highfield, the township in Harare where he lived before becoming president.
Mugabe arrived at the school which served as a polling station, not in his official black Mercedes-Benz limousine but in a modest Range Rover Vogue with his wife, Grace, and fellow Zanu-PF leaders.
He was escorted by soldiers and police officers. Scores of residents danced and sang at the gate to greet his convoy.
Mugabe repeated his assertion of previous days that the elections would be free and fair. “I’m sure people will vote freely and fairly,” he told journalists.
Casting his ballot in Harare yesterday, Tsvangirai said it was an “emotional moment”.
“After all the conflict, the stalemates, the suspicion, the hostility, I think there is a sense of calmness that finally Zimbabwe will be able to move on again,” he said.
Takarindwa Moyowatidhi who was one of the first in the queue said: “I want to vote for a better future for myself and my family. The situation is so difficult now. It’s hard to live, there are no jobs and money is hard to come by. I really want a better government.”
But near Mount Darwin, a rural area about 160km northeast of Harare, a 45-year-old woman who was fetching water from a communal pump, said she wanted the power-sharing government between Mugabe and Tsvangirai to come to an end.
“Ever since the power-sharing government, development has slowed down. If Mugabe is in power again, it will be smoother,” she says, adding that Tsvangirai has spent a lot of money on courting women. Tsvangirai’s chaotic love life has been in the news and Mugabe has used this to campaign against him.
Asked whether Mugabe wasn’t too old at age 89 to govern, she said “no, not really, he is wise”.
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